The Wine “Knockoff” Problem in China

It has happened in many industries in many countries, and now it is happening in China.

“It” is counterfeiting, and there are two primary methods that thieves use to dupe an unsuspecting and, at this point, unsophisticated wine-drinking public.

One involves taking an empty bottle of a premium brand, filling it with inferior (and much less expensive) wine, recorking it and selling it as if it were the original—often at a steeply “discounted” price, but still very profitable for the thieves.

Warning to potential wine purchasers in China: If that $8,000 bottle of well-aged Lafite Rothschild is being sold for $175, chances are it’s not really Lafite.

The other method used by counterfeiters is to print a label that is nearly identical to that of a well-known (and well-priced) brand, and simply let the buyer assume it’s the real thing. This plays on the consumer’s reluctance to question the authenticity of a product, since such a comment could cause the seller to lose face.

Tribune Newspapers recently reported that Christie’s auction house has taken a highly unusual step following any tasting event it conducts in China or Hong Kong: It breaks the bottles with a hammer.

“We have to protect provenance,” Simon Tam of Christie’s told Tribune’s David Pierson. “Even if you scrape off the label, there are still channels for the bottles to be misused.”

Counterfeiting is unusual in the United States, but it does happen. How can you be sure that the wine you’re buying is the real deal? Here are three tips:

  1. Beware of steeply discounted bottles. If you know that a wine normally sells for $50, and it’s being offered for $10, there could be something more involved than a really good sale.
  2. Check the label to make sure that the winery’s name is spelled correctly. Counterfeiters sometimes make a subtle change to a single letter so that later, if caught, they can claim they were not selling the “real thing.”
  3. Always buy your wine from a reputable seller.


Posted in The Wine Business
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